Featured image above by Mhaller1979 (CC by 2.0)
What do you do when you outgrow your dream job? I can’t be the first this has happened to — think of all the actors who have stepped behind the camera, for example. But for us regular people, how often does that happen? How do we move from a job that once provided so much gratification onto something that doesn’t suck?
Long ago I had this dream of moving to a small town and publishing the local newspaper. It would be the kind of place where I’d know the folks in town and the front page would feature the cat stuck in Timmy’s tree. Again.
So when, not much later, my wife mused one day how it would be cool if I were to one day take over Seattle’s local Jewish newspaper and turn it into something even I might actually want to read, I filed that thought in the back of my mind. Then it happened: I got that job. And I held it for more than 12 years, until the paper closed earlier this year. But several years in as editor of this gem of a community newspaper, my mind started to wander.
When Achieving Your Dreams Isn’t the End
The same thing happened to Remy Trupin. He had a vision that he turned into his dream job.
“Thinking about some of the kids that I grew up with not having the same chances I did economically, or with violence in their lives — some of them actually got killed — I just kept trying to think about where I could work to improve that,” he told me.
Remy, 43, worked in social services before moving into a position where he lobbied our legislators in Olympia in support of social services. Then, a decade ago, that work led to his dream job: founding executive director of the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, a think tank that has had direct influence in advancing progressive policy in our state, with plenty of results to show for it.
“I had the right amount of ego and narcissism to be able to utilize it and build the organization,” he said.
However, he added: “I don’t think I have that anymore.”
Like me, Remy didn’t have an epiphany or moment that pushed him to want to leave the center — which he will this summer — “but I definitely didn’t have the same type of energy to keep doing the things I was doing before.
“Not to say I did my job in a half-assed way,” he said, but “there were bigger systemic things I was doing that became much more interesting to me, and the day-to-day work of managing staff and raising money was not.”
In my case, a promotion a few years back to publisher of my paper, which meant I ran both the business and editorial departments, certainly added some spice. Continued work on upgrading our web presence and putting efforts into auxiliary publications, including one targeted toward younger adults, also helped. But despite all of that, during the last couple years I had that nagging feeling that I needed do move on to something bigger and better. But what?
Finding Next Steps
I asked Trish Chua, who herself has just fallen into her own dream job, about what people in this situation can do. Trish, who took maternity leave from her company and never went back, is known as a talent manager, “staying in touch with people and working with them throughout the cycle of their careers.”
What she more often sees is people whose dream jobs, for various reasons, will cease to exist. Her first piece of advice for people who may end up in this position: “Keep [your] skills current with the market,” she sad.
It’s also helpful to keep your eyes open to who and what are out there.
“The more that you can lift your head up and look at your industry as a whole and just network with your peers who are working at other companies similar to yours” can pay of many times over, she added.
Trish’s own story can serve as a guide as well.
“When I thought about what [we] did, day-to-day, on advising people on finding their dream job,” she said, “that was really my favorite part of it.”
So she’s focusing on that passion — on her own terms — while allowing herself to spend time with her baby.
As for Remy and me, we’re both working on figuring out our next steps. We both know we want to draw on our rich, unique skills, but we also know that the direction we need to go is different from the direction from which we came. So we’re talking to a lot of people, sending out a lot of emails, and going out for a lot of coffee. Which is exactly what Trish counsels.
“Inspiration for what your next step is going to be can come from so many different places,” she said.